Where to Begin

As a Canadian business, you may be either thinking of reopening or starting to prepare to open. There are many mandatory, provincial and federal regulations you must follow to eliminate the risk of COVID-19 infections in your workplace. Some questions you may be asking:

  • What must we do to comply with regulations and keep employees safe?
  • How must we take action to make our workplace safe?
  • How must we prepare and educate our employees?
  • How must we keep our workplace and employees safe?

In this guide, we walk you through the answers to these questions with some of the steps you must take.


You must review and comply with all local, provincial and federal legislation and recommendations with respect to COVID-19. This document provides guidance based on advice from public health authorities and medical experts. However, it is based on current knowledge of COVID-19 which is rapidly evolving, and is not intended to provide exhaustive answers to all questions or to confirm all published official recommendations. The measures presented encourage reflection. In addition, this guide will be updated regularly as new findings and recommendations become available.

Table of Contents

Risk Assessment

Assessing the risk of returning to work is the first point of consideration for most businesses. Please use this grid to carefully evaluate the guidelines issued by the Government of Canada.


1. You must obtain, read and comply with your provincial government and worker safety regulations. They may also be industry-specific.

2. From a public health standpoint, at this time, the recommendation to work from home must be maintained for all who can, whenever they can.

3. Accommodations should be made for workers in demographic groups (e.g. age-related risk) or with particular medical conditions at greatest risk from COVID-19 infection.

For businesses that must reopen, the employer must identify the risks of transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace. If the risks of contamination can’t be eliminated, steps must be taken to reduce and control them. To do so, an evaluation of the workplace and tasks during which workers may be exposed to the virus must be closely assessed.

In this guide, we provide suggestions to prepare your workplace and employees.


Important Principles

The main principles to minimize the risk of transmission are:

  • Work from home whenever possible
  • The exclusion of symptomatic or potentially-infectious people from the workplace 
  • Physical and other means of distancing (e.g. temporally through schedules, staggered entry and exit times)
  • Hand washing
  • Proper respiratory etiquette
  • Maintaining hygiene measures for tools, equipment and surfaces that are frequently used.

KEY POINT: Employers must follow provincial instructions on worker safety in their respective industry, as well as Public Health and Safety. 

- Alberta’s Relaunch Strategy  
- Temporary workplace rule changes
- WCB-Alberta (Workers’Compensation Board-Alberta)
- Alberta Biz Connect

- BC’s Restart Plan 
- WorkSafe BC: COVID-19 and returning to safe operation

- Restoring Safe Services Together: Manitoba’s Phased Approach 
- SafeWork Manitoba: Industry-specific COVID-19 Information
- WCB-Manitoba (Workers’Compensation Board of Manitoba): How the WCB is Responding to COVID-19

- New Brunswick’s recovery plan to COVID-19  
-  WorkSafe Travail sécuritaire

- Information sheets for businesses and workplaces
- Alert Level System
- Refer to this page to see the current level: https://www.gov.nl.ca/covid-19/

- Working during COVID-19
- Closures, cancellations and service changes
- COVID-19: what it means for Nova Scotians
- WorkSafe. For Life. Workers’ compensation board of Nova Scotia: COVID-19

- Program and service availability during COVID-19
- WSCC (Workers’Safety & Compensation Commission: Safe at Work and WSCC Service Updates

NU: WSCC (Workers’Safety & Compensation Commission: Safe at Work and WSCC Service Updates

- Resources to prevent COVID-19 in the workplace
- WSIB Ontario (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board)

- Reopening Ontario after COVID-19 

- WCB (Workers Compensation Board of PEI: COVID-19
- Renew PEI Together 

- Gradual resumption of activities under the COVID-19-related pause 
- Quebec is going back to work safely

SK: - WorkSafe Saskatchewan

WCB SK (Saskatchewan Workers’Compensation Board):

- COVID-19 response for workers
- COVID-19 response for employers
- COVID-19 response for care providers


- Closures, cancellations, facility access and services
Yukon WCB (Yukon Workers’Compensation Health and Safety Board): COVID-19 worker and employer resources


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Prioritizing Work From Home/Telecommuting

  • Support your employees by communicating regularly and often
  • Identify equipment needs and modifications to their work at home
  • Keep in mind some employees will be constrained in many ways (children at home, lack of equipment) 
  • Try to remain flexible and recognize that normal productivity and scheduling may not be possible
  • While not mandated, some organizations have added flexible arrangements or mental health days to assist at this particularly difficult time
  • If employees need part-time access to facilities, it may be beneficial to have them be present on a rotating basis to minimize contact and the number of persons on-site at a given time. Consider establishing and communicating a schedule widely to ensure alignment.
  • Consider the start and stop of shifts in a staggered approach to reduce the number of people entering or exiting the building (single access points with potential to become a bottleneck) at one time. For example, divide the workforce into groups: 
    • Group 1 enters before 7:30 am
    • Group 2 between 7:30am-8am
    • Group 3 between from 8am-8:30am
    • Group 4 after 8:30am
  • Staggered breaks and lunch times can also help minimize the number of people accessing common areas, if they are unavoidable.


Return to Work Checklist – Establishing Your Strategies

KEY POINT: Organizing a return to work is complex and there will be much to plan and do to comply to regulations mandated by your province and industry. In the preparatory phases:

  • Telecommuting/working from home is mandated whenever possible
  • As you prepare, make a list of all items which will be needed
  • Keep in mind supplies needed may be difficult to obtain
  • Build a team to make a plan specific to your business 

This recovery plan may be developed by a crisis unit, a dedicated work team, that brings together members of management, directors, supervisors, human resources advisors and health and safety managers.

    • Set up recurring meetings and communicate regularly to assess the situation as it evolves
    • Obtain and review provincial guidance and any guidance specific to sector of work
    • Establish Health and Safety policies for workers
  • Create a process/form for all workers to state their health, daily and confidentially
  • Your province may mandate that you keep detailed records of all those who were onsite at specific times for contact tracing. We recommend this strongly.
  • Validate the health of all workers daily and confidentially
  • If there is any exposure or illness criteria, a mandatory return to home isolation for 14 days is required
  • Exposure in the workplace obligates immediate mitigation measures, disinfection and tracing measures
  • Designate employee(s) as “Sanitary and Logistics Agent”
  • Create channels of communication with involved partners
    • The planning team
    • Communicating to your employees
  • Create a timeline for return
  • For each site, train and designate Sanitary and Logistics Agents who will be monitoring the measures put in place. There should be a person on-site at all times when employees are present, assigned to monitor the situation and respond to incidents or problems which are identified. That person should be empowered to take all corrective measures including removal of persons or all employees from the workplace in case of danger(s) identified.

Preparing the Workplace

At the site: 

  • An on-site evaluation must be made (we recommend floor plans, photos and/or video walkthroughs to anticipate problem areas)
  • Access must be limited to essential personnel
  • Evaluation of flow of traffic, paying attention to distancing. Access points should be determined
  • Distancing must be maintained at 2 m
  • Reconfigure work areas to maintain 2 m distancing minimum and install barriers where possible (e.g. Plexiglas window or high walled cubicle). 
  • Physical modifications may be needed (e.g. keep certain doors open or adding a hands-free door opener pedal)
  • If unable to keep minimum of 2 m, appropriate equipment must be supplied (masks, gloves, face shields, etc.) and sufficient stock be kept
  • Appropriate clear signage and indications must be planned and installed
  • Use of meeting spaces should be restricted. Video or audio conferencing is preferred and meeting spaces, if needed, must respect 2 m distancing and any maximum occupancy requirements specified in your province
  • Deactivate access to or restrict common areas to a maximum number of people that allows for 2 m distancing. Remove any seating that does not allow for 2 m distancing. Include signage on the door to indicate maximum number of people allowed in a room at a given time.
  • Identify spaces requiring proximity (stairwells, elevators) and determine how to manage the flow of people to maintain distance
  • We recommend that a select group, with the above agents, perform test-runs to assess logistics and safety measures prior to opening

Cleaning and hygiene measures:

  • Supply cleaning products at all workstations, communal areas
  • Locations for cleaning products, signs, glove and masks must be determined. Ideally all these should be regularly verified for inventory and restocking
  • Workplace must have sufficient supplies on hand to permit safe work
    • Hand sanitizer (ideally with a non-touch dispenser & refills) 
    • Hand soap
    • Tissues
    • Disinfectant wipes (for surfaces such as tables and desks)
    • Garbage bins with foot-operated lids & garbage bags
  • If there is shared equipment, it must be indicated. Gloves or all necessary supplies to clean shared equipment must be available. We suggest cleaning before and after use of equipment.
  • Bathrooms should be set up to be as non-touch as possible (sink and soap dispenser, etc.).
  • To manage trash safely, add garbage bins in as many places as possible near high-contact points (ideally foot operated or left open if possible to reduce contact with lids)
  • Training of personnel regarding new procedures should be done online if possible, in advance of opening and ideally with periodic reminders.

Communication with your Employees

  • Contact your employees well in advance of return to work. If possible, meet with them individually to talk about new policies, support resources and expected changes in the workplace
  • Confidentially validate who can safely return to work
  • You must be transparent, adaptable and listen to concerns early
  • Remember, good ideas can come from anywhere
  • There will be increased stress and distress
  • Identification of risk/unanticipated problems must be dealt with rapidly
  • Be sensitive to changes in their mental health
  • Consider sending an anonymous survey to identify concerns
  • Ensure managers are well-informed on how to support employees and on the physical and mental health resources available  
  • Develop a structured approach and communication channels to drive ongoing awareness, understanding, commitment and adoption of new policies 
  • Communicate how to flag issues or concerns
  • Re-evaluate employee health and concerns regularly

Source: CRHA Return to Work Guide


Preparing Employees

  • Send a company-wide communication laying out your workplace’s return to work plan and the steps taken to keep your organization healthy
  • Provide an in-depth review of what changes employees can expect in the workplace
  • Communicate clear and concise directives/training on how employees are expected to behave (workers to remain 2 m away from each other at all times, cleaning of individual workstations, etc.) 
  • Provide the image below and include it as signage throughout the workplace
  • Remind employees of the risks associated with non-compliance (risk to themselves, their families, their colleagues and their families), as well as the legal obligation 

Behaviours which are essential:

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